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Parch the poor 

Access to clean running water is not only a basic human need but also a deciding factor in whether a place is civilized. Yet last year the city of Detroit shut off water service to more than 40,000 homes, in some cases pouring concrete over meters so they couldn’t be jimmied back on. The same number of homes was cut off the year before.

This year, the number is expected to increase, says Detroit Water and Sewerage Department spokesman George Ellenwood. The department is taking a “more aggressive” stance on bill collection, but Ellenwood says it has nothing to do with a series of Detroit News articles outlining problems that included overdue and uncollected bills.

The threat of turnoffs boils the blood of civil rights activists. “Turning people’s water off is a death sentence,” says Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. She says it’s not only inhumane, but fiscally irresponsible, because the State of Michigan spends money to remove children from homes that lack running water. Taylor’s rights organization will rally Monday, Martin Luther King Day, beginning at noon at the Water Department located on Randolph Street. They’ll demand that the department turn water back on. Activists want the city to make arrangements with poorer customers and senior citizens so they don’t have to pay for water ever again.

“The security of our neighborhoods is not based on whether or not somebody from another land is going to come and do harm to you ... our interest and focus should be how do we maintain a quality of life,” says Taylor. “Here in Detroit, we need to call the UN to make sure we have access to water.”

Sara Gerusky, a policy analyst with Public Citizen’s Water for All Campaign, says Detroit’s policy seems harsh. “There are poor people in New York and Los Angeles and other cities around the country but you don’t see this kind of turn-off rate,” Gerusky says.

For more information on the “Resurrection Monday” rally, call the Welfare Rights Organization at 313-832-0618.

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